Frequently Asked Questions: Root Canals


If you’ve never had a root canal, we can’t blame you for feeling a little apprehensive: After all, there are plenty of stories floating around about this effective and time-tested procedure. The good news is, lots of those stories are myths—starting with the idea that root canal treatment is exceptionally uncomfortable. So let’s set the facts straight by answering some common questions about root canal treatment.

Q) What is a root canal—and why would I need one?

A) A “root canal” is a tiny, branching passageway deep inside your tooth, which contains nerves, blood vessels, and other soft pulp tissue; you can have 3 or more per tooth. The phrase is also short for “root canal treatment,” which is what you need if a problem develops in this area. When the soft tissue inside the root canal is exposed to harmful bacteria—often due to untreated decay or injury—it becomes infected and inflamed. To stop the infection from spreading, the diseased tissue must be removed and the tooth sealed against reinfection—otherwise, it may need to be extracted. The goal of root canal treatment is to preserve the natural tooth.

Q) Is root canal treatment painful?

A) In a word: no. An infection deep in the pulp of the tooth can be quite painful; having root canal treatment will relieve the pain. The procedure is generally performed under local anesthesia (such as a numbing shot), and is comparable to having a cavity filled—though it may take a bit longer. But if you’re especially anxious about dental procedures, ask whether anxiety-relieving medications or other types of anesthesia might be right for you.

Q) What is the procedure like?

A) A root canal is an in-office procedure that can be performed by general dentists or specialists, such as endodontists. After the tooth is numbed, a small hole is made in the crown (hard chewing surface) to give access to the pulp (soft inner tissue). The infected tissue is removed with tiny instruments, and the canal is cleaned and disinfected. Finally, the root canal(s) are filled with inert material, and the hole in the tooth is closed up so it can’t be re-infected.

Q) What happens afterward?

A) You will go home and rest, and then carry on with your normal activities. The affected tooth may be sensitive for a few days, but any discomfort can usually be relieved with over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen. You may be instructed to eat softer foods for a day or two, and to avoid chewing with that tooth. In many cases, a permanent crown restoration (cap) will be needed to bring the tooth back its full function and appearance; this will be placed at a later appointment.

Q) What happens if I don’t get treatment?

A) If you can manage the pain, it may eventually stop—at least temporarily—but without treatment, the infection won’t. It will eventually travel through the tooth’s roots and into the surrounding tissue, releasing toxins and damaging the tooth-supporting structures in the jaw. Left untreated, it can result in a gum abscess or a systemic infection; it can also cause tooth loss, along with its attendant problems. That’s why it is so important for you to get this safe and effective treatment when your dentist finds a problem inside your tooth.

Call us at 1-800-238-5163 to find out about how dental savings plans can help make quality dental care affordable.


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